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S. Africa: Companies have legal standing to dismiss employees who refuse to get vaccinated; legal expert

‘Explainer: Your Employer Could Fire You for Not Getting the Covid19 Vaccine’ 28 July 2021

Employees who refuse to get the coronavirus vaccine could be at risk of losing their jobs over that decision. According to legal experts, employers may have legal standing to dismiss people who refuse to get the Covid-19 in order to maintain a safe working environment. The Congress of South African Trade Unions believes that under the Labour Relations Act, employers cannot fire individuals who refuse to get vaccinated

While getting the coronavirus vaccine is not a legal obligation in South Africa, employees need to be aware that there could be implications, such as the possibility of losing their jobs, should they choose not to get vaccinated. According to Business Insider, the South African Labour Department has asked companies to stipulate whether they plan to make getting the Covid-19 vaccine compulsory for their employees…A previous agreement taken at the National Economic Development and Labour Council between government and companies stated that refusal to get the coronavirus vaccine was not grounds to dismiss employees, however, this agreement has been revised.

…Employers can rely on the new guidelines stipulated in terms of the Occupational Health and Safety Act if employees refuse to get the Covid-19 jab. Business for South Africa has highlighted that under the new guidelines, companies are not prohibited from dismissing employees who refuse to get vaccinated. Public health lawyer Safura Abdool Karim stated that under the Act, companies are mandated to create a safe working environment for their employees, and a safe working environment could mean mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations, according to a report by The Citizen. Karim added that companies do have legal standing if they choose to dismiss employees who refuse to get vaccinated. Employers are however advised to seek legal advice before dismissing employees. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) says employers do not have the right to fire employees who choose to not get vaccinated. The labour organisation says that they will rely on the Labour Relations Act as well as the Constitution to defend employees. Sizwe Pamla, Cosatu national spokesperson, says there's no ministerial directive that mandates employees get vaccinated. “The ministerial direction is specific that no worker can be forced to vaccinate or be dismissed for refusing a vaccine," said Pamla. Companies may consider firing employees who are high-risk individuals and also refuse to get vaccinated only if the type of employment cannot make alternative work arrangements for such an employee, according to Business Insider.